Author Topic: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future  (Read 3880 times)

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Trak26

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JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« on: Jun 14, 2012, 11:05 pm »
Worked on a amateur musical recently where a lighting and sound company came into provide services. They provided lighting, sound and followspot operators as part of the deal. What surprised me was that I was told that as the lighting desk was programed for all the cues, the lighting operator would call their own cues and that of the followspot operators. That the lighting operator prefered to call the show as it was boring for them sitting up there pressing a go button and all they really needed from me was when to start and finish the show.
Has anyone else had this happen?
I can say I was a bit miffed because to me it has never been about pressing go but making everything flow together. Plus I was not sure I wanted to be listed as SM for the selfish reason if the cues went askew I would be the one blamed for not getting it right.
It led me to think about the role of SM in the performance space as more and more becomes automated, when multiple complex lighting cues can be achieved with a simple push of the button and whether the role of SM is changing.
I have to admit I have been out of the professional sphere for some time so these changes may just be flowing down to some amateur groups. Interested to hear what everyone thinks.

Edit to subject-Rebbe

« Last Edit: Sep 29, 2012, 01:14 pm by Rebbe »
“Perhaps, therefore, ideal stage managers not only need to be calm and meticulous professionals who know their craft, but masochists who feel pride in rising above impossible odds.”

On_Headset

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Re: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #1 on: Jun 15, 2012, 02:19 am »
It may surprise you to learn that very few people who work on running crew actually do the job they are paid to do.

It's great that the stage manager calls cues and gives instructions--but that's not their real job. If that was their main and sole responsibility, you're exactly right: we could get rid of stage managers altogether and replace them with automated show tracks. (As many amusement parks and some cruise ships have already done.)

The actual job of the stage manager is to ensure that, if something goes horribly horribly wrong, there's an expert on-hand to take over and prevent further damage. If the building burns down, if the stage collapses, if the power goes out, if the building floods, or the electrics short out, and so on.

Yes, it's true, calling the show is in the job description--but that's not especially skilled work. If all we really needed to do once a show goes in is call the cues, they could replace us all with high school students who do a perfectly adequate job of precisely that on their am-dram productions. (Much cheaper, get rid of the unions, producers would love it.) The reason we exist as a profession is because we do much, much more than that.

Similarly:
- It's great that the ushers hold doors open and tear tickets, but they're actually here so that, if the fire alarms go off, people aren't trampled to death in the aisles.
- It's great that the stagehands shift scenery and handle rigging, but they're actually there so that, when the change doesn't go as designed, the situation can be corrected--rather than having automated devices plow into each other (or into cast members).
- It's great that your ASMs give cues and deal with actors backstage, but they're actually there so that, if something goes horribly horribly wrong, someone knows where the fire extinguisher and first aid kits are, how to work the coms, who to call, when/how to stop the show, etc.
- It's great that the child wrangler keeps the kids quiet and entertained and on time, but they're actually there so that, when you need to evacuate the building in response to a bomb threat, no children get left behind.
- etc. etc. etc.
« Last Edit: Jun 15, 2012, 02:22 am by On_Headset »

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brettnexx

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #2 on: Feb 27, 2013, 05:39 pm »
It's really hard to say what the actual job of a stage manager is, but I definitely think that a component of the job is calling cues.

The stage manager, as a general job description; Is to facilitate communication between the departments, and as the show opens, maintain the artistic integrity of the director (very text book answer), but I believe it to be true. As with any shows I've SM'ed as well as with any professional stage managers I've worked with, they wouldn't dare let the lighting guy call his own show. The SM is the most familiar with the show, and that is why the director entrusts them to maintain his/her artistic integrity.

MatthewShiner

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #3 on: Feb 27, 2013, 06:11 pm »
like air traffic controllers, I often describe my job as "hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror".

I firmly believe that as shows become more and more automated, stage managers are MORE important and our job becomes more complicated.

First, in the creation side of the show - there are countless things that need to be taken into account on how the show comes together.  Stage Management is in charge of making sure moment by moment, each department understands how a transition, a scene, or number is put together - and understand cutting ten seconds off a music cue, may make the scene transition impossible - and all the quick changes.

Teching a show - stage management is key to make sure that show is repeatable 8, 10, 24, 32 times a week .  And as long as there is live actors, the stage manager is important to make sure the live actors are "coloring in the lines" of the automated show . . . if someone steps out bounds, goes long, etc, a live human being needs to make a decision about how to handle it.

Maintaining the performances, understudies, put-ins - although there are a lot of "show directors" now who maintain shows, stage managers are usually the front line for those issues.

And then there is the "Management" portion of stage management - the dealing with human beings being human beings in the work place.  This is probably the most important part of job, often the one area where young stage managers get the least training.

You know - calling a show is a the most boring, repetitive, and to me, AT TIMES, soul sucking part of the job - if you teched the show well, the show should run smoothly most of the time.  And the moments something goes wrong - I perk up, get excited - there is something new happening - problem solving time - and we solve the problem, move on, and bam, I am back into the routine. 

NOW - if you felt strongly that the show required for you to call the cue - for timing purposes, you should have spoken up - and went - listen, I understand that this can be quite boring, but I think given the nature of this show we need to have one person calling it.

We are the conductor - sure everyone can play their own instruments, on their own rhythm, but a conducted piece brings it all together in one fluid performance.   

There is no doubt the nature of this business is changing drastically, but there is a place for us in the heavy automated, high tech shows, as there is for a four person, unit set drama.

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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

NomieRae

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #4 on: Feb 27, 2013, 08:46 pm »
Agreed with those who come before me on this thread - as per usual.

To tack on, the reasons people listed above are also reasons I feel like we should not be lumping jobs together on the SM's plate in the first place once a show is open.

Often in small productions (or just small budget productions, or hell I've done Off-bway shows this way) the calling stage managers are asked to do the job of board op for lights, sound, etc.  Very often on a short run I am asked to also run a board (for an additional fee, of course) and if the show is much more than lights up/lights down I usually do everything to avoid it because the division of labor on a production is so important when looking at the bigger picture.

If I'm the calling SM and running the light board and a fixture goes out, am I equipped to fix it or try and put a band-aid on it to get us through the show? Often times, not. I have to move forward with the show calling cues and watching the action, whereas a board op has the knowledge (bless them) to work in a blind mode, fix things, and still take cues. Meanwhile they can tell me "Hey fixture 34 is out and it's also so-and-so's downlight so we're doing only front light today" and I can tell my ASM who can relay to an actor.

Asking people to do several jobs trivializes our skill set and labor. There is a reason I became a stage manager, and while I have a good working knowledge of the technology that runs the show, it is not my job to know these things and fix them. My job is to manage the crew, and cast and oversee the running of the production which encompasses far more than just calling the cues.
--Naomi
"First, I honor life, and with it my life in theatre." -- Jacques Burdick

Jessie_K

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #5 on: Feb 28, 2013, 10:01 am »
As with any shows I've SM'ed as well as with any professional stage managers I've worked with, they wouldn't dare let the lighting guy call his own show. The SM is the most familiar with the show, and that is why the director entrusts them to maintain his/her artistic integrity.

A major exception to this is cirque-style shows when the SM must concentrate on calling complex automation sequences with lifts, scenery and flying performers.  In times like this, the light operator DOES take his/her own cues.

KMC

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #6 on: Feb 28, 2013, 10:42 am »
Since leaving the field of Stage Management several years ago I have worked for a company that designs, engineers, and installs integrated entertainment technology systems. 

The lighting, audio, video, and rigging systems we supply are capable of taking every cue on their own from a timecoded source.  From a technology point of view, this could all happen automatically at 8:07pm without any input from any human anywhere.

The reality though is of course far different.  I can tell you first hand that technolgoy is not going to eliminate the jobs of Stage Managers or Technicians in our lifetime.  Though these systems are capable of full autonomy, the reality is you still need a human there to interact with the technology.  Live entertainment, by definition, is never going to be flawless.  Two shows are never going to the same and at the end of the day you still need people to react and make changes, adjustments, etc.. based on the unexpected events and problems that each individual performance has the potential to bring.

The points below are excellent.  While the SM's role as a cue-calling voice will evolve and in some cases may diminish; the role as a manager of people, as the manager of a living, breathing production; will not be going anywhere in our lifetime.  And isn't that really where our strengths lie? 
Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

babens

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #7 on: Feb 28, 2013, 12:20 pm »
And in some cases we are getting even more of a presence as the technology is increasing.  As I recall, Spider Man has two stage managers calling the show.  I don't remember exactly how everything was divided, but one is calling lighting cues and the other the automated flight cues.

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BARussell

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #8 on: Mar 01, 2013, 03:36 am »
Just like the job has changed over the years, and our duties can vary from company to company, the inclusion of more automation will change it again, but definitely not get rid of us. The tasks may be done a different way, but there will always be a place for a "stage manager". So even though SMs at Cirque don't call light cues, they are responsible for the recording and archiving of all the performances which has it's own cues and processes. One thing replaced with another. We will just have to see what new things are thrown at us in the future.
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PaulHughes01

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #9 on: Mar 03, 2013, 05:31 pm »
I tend to agree with most of what has been said so far. I definitely fall into the camp that would have a problem letting an outside party (the light board op) call his/her own cues. As stated by the folks above, the live performance will never be perfect, and performance-time decisions need to be made by the person who knows the production inside and out—the stage manager. If something goes wrong with lighting, it is far better for the stage manager to make the choice to keep the current cue up a little longer and to skip the next if, say, going to the next cue would leave much of the stage in darkness. The light board operator might not have the necessary knowledge of the production to make the best call, and ultimately shouldn't have that responsibility placed on him/her in the first place. If the board op is being forced to make artistic or, more importantly, safety-affecting decisions, then the setup is not, in my opinion, the proper one. The stage manager has the knowledge necessary to keep everyone safe and get through the show most effectively, even if things go horribly awry; the board op doesn't—simple as that.

BARussell

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #10 on: Mar 04, 2013, 09:39 pm »
I tend to agree with most of what has been said so far. I definitely fall into the camp that would have a problem letting an outside party (the light board op) call his/her own cues. As stated by the folks above, the live performance will never be perfect, and performance-time decisions need to be made by the person who knows the production inside and out—the stage manager. If something goes wrong with lighting, it is far better for the stage manager to make the choice to keep the current cue up a little longer and to skip the next if, say, going to the next cue would leave much of the stage in darkness. The light board operator might not have the necessary knowledge of the production to make the best call, and ultimately shouldn't have that responsibility placed on him/her in the first place. If the board op is being forced to make artistic or, more importantly, safety-affecting decisions, then the setup is not, in my opinion, the proper one. The stage manager has the knowledge necessary to keep everyone safe and get through the show most effectively, even if things go horribly awry; the board op doesn't—simple as that.

I see what you mean but I feel like that really underestimates the abilities of the board op. If they are the type to be taking their own cues then they need to have a lot of knowledge about the show, and they have to be paying attention, they know what the cues do, and they should be tuned in enough to know when something is going horribly wrong.  Plus if something is going wrong there is nothing to say you aren't still in communication with them. Using the cirque example: Lighting was on a different channel and took their own cues, but there were always changes and things in the show that happened on the fly. Sometimes a last minute act would be put in, or an artist would tell us they will be altering the staging they normally do, the stage manager just opens all channels and communicates that to them.
"We don't negotiate with weirdos!"

chadparkerla

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #11 on: Mar 13, 2013, 07:12 pm »
I tend to agree with much of this. My thoughts go like this. Especially with musicals and operas, exact timing of cues is as much an art as a science. A light cue that is a little late can horribly interfere with the mood. I have worked with light board operators who could do it and those who could not.

It basically boils down to:

- Was the board op there for enough rehearsals to know how the timing should "feel"?
and
- Are they any good at it?

In any case, I think the call for that is up to the stage manager. After all, it is their job to make sure the artistic vision comes out. If, in their opinion, the board op can do it... fine. If otherwise, then no.

For example, I have a young board op who I would trust to get the artistic timing of any musical number after just one rehearsal. They are just that good, and that musically sensitive. On the other hand, I have other board ops that are always a second or two off unless I call the cue.

Chad
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MatthewShiner

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #12 on: Mar 14, 2013, 10:17 am »
it's funny though, how many, many shows have a sound mixer that mixes the shows without our calling (and on a lot of musicals . . . takes their own sound cues) - and we have been fine with that for years.

I wonder why, me included, we tend to stiffen up about issues with the light cues being taken on their own . . .

just interesting.
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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

SMAshlee

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #13 on: Mar 14, 2013, 11:12 am »
I feel like most of the shows I've stage manged, are all a little different in terms of calling cues.  There were times I called sound cues but usually only when everything had to happen at once.  Same with lighting.  I think a lot of it has to do with trust.  The large musical I worked on, the sm called automation and rail cues on channel A and the board op called cues for spots on channel B.  The sm and op sat beside each other in the booth so if something unexpected happened, he could get lighting instructions. 

On the other hand, part of the artistic magic for me is calling the perfectly timed insanely long sting of cues. 

NomieRae

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Re: JOB DESCRIPTION: SM Role in the automated future
« Reply #14 on: Mar 14, 2013, 12:28 pm »
it's funny though, how many, many shows have a sound mixer that mixes the shows without our calling (and on a lot of musicals . . . takes their own sound cues) - and we have been fine with that for years.

Interesting indeed! Can you imagine if you had to call every mic cue for when people enter and exit....? I get a headache just thinking about it.
--Naomi
"First, I honor life, and with it my life in theatre." -- Jacques Burdick

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